In 1920, at the Antwerp Olympics, an unsmiling 23-year-old from Finland was pitted against a Frenchman Joseph Guillemot in the 5000 m. Paavo Nurmi lost the race by five seconds. That was the only long-distance running event he lost in the next eight years. In the 10,000 m a few days later, Nurmi won the gold. He won the cross-country event and the team title as well. People began to call him Nurmi, the Machine; Nurmi, the Invincible and the Flying Finn.
Nurmi displayed a single-minded determination to win from the age of 12. For years, he subjected himself to endurance training in the forests of his native Finland.
In the 1924 Paris Games he not only took the gold in the 1500 m and the 5000 m, both of which were held within an hour of each other, but also set Olympic records in each! He went on to bag three more golds __ in the 10,000 m cross country and two team events.
Four years later, in Amsterdam, he won his ninth and last, Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 m.
There is a statue of Paavo Nurmi outside Helsinki's Olympic stadium and the 'Flying Finn' had the honour of lighting the flame at Helsinki in 1952.